By NATHAN GREGORY
Mayor Parker Wiseman vetoed the Starkville Board of Aldermen’s Jan. 2 decision to increase the salary of the mayor and aldermen Tuesday.
At that meeting, the board voted 6-1 in favor of increasing aldermen’s annual compensation from $12,000 to $15,000 and the mayor’s salary from $60,000 to $71,500 effective at the beginning of Fiscal Year 2015.
Wiseman said the board’s decision was based on the fact that elected officials in Starkville make less than elected officials in comparable cities.
“While data supports that conclusion, data also supports the conclusion that the salaries of city of Starkville employees are lower than the salaries of comparable city employees,” Wiseman said.
Wiseman’s announcement comes while the city is working with Mississippi State University’s John C. Stennis Institute of Government on a survey designed to compare city employee salaries with those of peer municipal entities to address salary deficiencies. Members of the board of aldermen as well as the city’s audit and budget committee have voiced plans to use the survey results to address the issue by creating a transition plan that would last anywhere from one to three years. The plan would involve adjusting salaries to be more congruent to those of Starkville’s municipal and business peers while staying within budget.
Wiseman applauded the board on the creation of a transition plan to address the inequities.
“I commend the board for taking a serious and measured approach to ensuring that our employees are adequately compensated,” he said in his statement. “However, I take issue with the decision to increase the salaries of the elected officials prior to answering lingering questions regarding the salaries of the hard working men and women we employ.”
The board already has more than the required number of five votes needed to override the veto if it votes identical to how it did Jan. 2. Ward 1 Alderman Ben Carver was the only dissenting vote.
The survey, coordinated by Stennis Institute Assistant Director Jeff Markham, was sent to 97 cities in similar size to Starkville from area states including Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Tennessee and Texas as well as Mississippi to obtain comparable salary employee data for 54 job descriptions. According to data in the latest survey report, 30 cities responded, and the conclusion is the majority of salaries paid by the city of Starkville fall below the mean, or average of all salaries, paying an average of 86 percent of the mean. Of the 54 job descriptions and salaries surveyed, 42 pay less than the mean salary for the position.
In the survey, the only positions Starkville paid noticeably higher than the mean for were auto maintenance mechanic, waste water operator, electric department general manager, mayor administrative assistant, city planner and city accountant. The position paid the most over the mean was the electric department general manager — Starkville’s actual or average salary is listed at $70,053 while the mean is $61,124.
Starkville’s average salary for chief administrative officer is $61,169 — less than half of the $133,465 mean.
Starkville Personnel Officer Randy Boyd said of 39 city employment terminations that occurred in the 2012 calendar year, 21 were resignations, and 13 of those 21 left for other similar employment that offered higher compensation.
Boyd said he’s working with Markham to narrow the list’s scope down to other municipalities and organizations that are more specifically and geographically in line with Starkville. Not enough data has yet been gathered in some job positions, Boyd said, and the data provided was limited to city municipalities. Broadening the data to include some area county governments as well as universities and utility companies can provide a better focus on Starkville’s standing as an employer that shows what steps the city should take to better position itself with its peers, he said.
“In the last 12 to 24 months we seem to have experienced a higher degree in turnover than we have had in years past. Our concern there is that new hires require extensive training and we’re spending excess funds on training to try to replace the (personnel) we’ve lost,” Boyd said. “We need to ensure that our salary structure is competitive to reduce the turnover. Turnover is very costly in terms of training and efficiency.”
The Starkville Audit and Budget Committee tasked Boyd to work with Markham to include data from such entities as Columbus Light & Water, 4-County Electric Power Association, Oktibbeha County Sheriff’s Department, the Mississippi University for Women and MSU as well as municipalities within a 60-75 mile radius with a population of at least 20,000.